Knit sweaters for penguins! Wait, too many sweaters! But keep knitting sweaters!

The Penguin Foundation in Australia might have too much of a good thing on its hands. The organization, which supports conservation projects on Phillip Island, where a colony of about 32,000 little penguins calls home, has been knitting tiny sweaters for vulnerable birds since a major oil spill in 2001.

“A patch of oil the size of an adult’s thumbnail can kill a little penguin,” the organization notes in its Knits for Nature program. “Oiled penguins often die from exposure and starvation. Oil separates and mats feathers, allowing water to get in which makes a penguin very cold, heavy and less able to successfully hunt for food. Many oiled penguins die of hypothermia before they can make it to shore. Other penguins die from swallowing the poisonous oil as they attempt to clean (preen) their feathers.”


Clad in small woollen sweaters – or jumpers – the birds, which stand 33 centimetres tall and weigh about 1 kilogram, have a better shot at survival. A recent call-out for knitters resulted in a flood of donations – and confusion about whether penguins were really wearing sweaters or if the plea was a hoax. In fact, it’s real, and earlier this year, the organization lauded a 95-year-old supporter for knitting more than 1,000 tiny sweaters for the penguins, which are indigenous to southern Australia and New Zealand.

The Oregonian put together a thorough Q&A about the program. But you may want to pause before picking up the knitting needles – or maybe not.

“Please know that we do not urgently require little penguin jumpers for rehabilitation, we have a good supply of these which we use on any rescued oiled penguins and in the event of an oil spill, these jumpers are also sent to other wildlife rescue centres if required,” the penguin foundation posted on its website.

Sweaters that don’t follow the patterns posted online and may be too loose or the wrong type of wool still go to good use. They are sold on toy penguins with proceeds going to support the foundation’s conservation efforts.

h/t The Oregonian Photos Penguin Foundation

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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